Graham Kilmer

Festa Italiana Returning But Downsized

Organizers had canceled annual festival at Summerfest, will hold it at Italian Community Center.

By - May 31st, 2022 02:37 pm
Festa Italiana 2015. Photo taken by Jack Fennimore on July 19th, 2015.

Festa Italiana 2015. Photo taken by Jack Fennimore on July 19th, 2015.

Festa Italiana actually will happen this year, but not at the same scale nor at the Summerfest grounds. It will be a smaller festival held at the Italian Community Center (ICC) at 631 E. Chicago St.

In April, organizers of the festival announced that it would not be returning this year “Due to the circumstances associated with COVID-19 and its impact on the organization during the past few years.”

During a press conference Tuesday, Rose Anne Fritchie, president of the ICC, the parent organization for Festa, said the decision to cancel the festival at the Henry Maier Summerfest Grounds, where it has been since 1978, was based on the fiscal health of the organization.

“We just did not think it was fiscally responsible for us to risk the money in a large festival this year,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on events at the ICC and demand for parking in its large lot, both of which are important sources of revenue for the organization. Fritchie said that business is beginning to return to the conference center.

But the ICC and Festa already had financial difficulties even before the pandemic hit, as Urban Milwaukee previously reported. At the end of 2019 the ICC found itself with a net budget deficit or more than half a million dollars, in part because it lost more than $200,000 on Festa Italiana that year.

“People don’t realize, it’s extremely expensive to put on a festival like this,” Fritchie told Urban Milwaukee in April. “One day of bad weather can break the festival.”

The cancelation “upset people a great deal,” Fritchie said, and she and other members of the board heard from the public about it. Between phone calls and the response online, “believe me, I’ve gotten an earful,” she said.

“Yes people were very upset, but we were upset,” she said. “It was a hard, hard decision to make.”

During the press conference, Fritchie said it “was always the plan” to cease using the Summerfest grounds and bring the festival to the ICC. “We needed to be certain that we could do it, we had a lot of investigation that we needed to do,” she said. “In order to hold it on our own grounds, there’s a lot of infrastructure that we’ll need to bring in and before we announced anything I wanted to be certain that we really could do it.”

It will cost the organization “considerably less” to host the scaled down version there, she said. But, while it will be smaller in size, with only one stage, it will still be Festa Italiana, Fritchie assured. The whole parking lot will be used for the grounds of the event, and the building will be used to host a religious art exhibit, a historic photo exhibit and the Mass, “which is very integral to our whole celebration,” she said.

“We’re going back to our roots,” Fritchie said.

She described the new iteration scheduled for the end of September as more intimate, but with all the food and Italian cultural celebration that marked previous festivals.

“We’re looking forward to having a big backyard party,” she said.

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